“I want to grow wide.”
So said a former college student who is now a full-fledged member of adult society, who stopped by a few hours ago to visit and say both hello and goodbye. The job she wanted in Washington is now hers. Life awaits. She’s not going to sit around and let it find her, she’s going after it.
She’s never been one to dip her toe into anything, either. No. She’s much more of a jumper. Often headfirst.
Her eagerness did me some good. Angst and pessimism seem to be the norms nowadays. It was nice to see someone actually excited about life. Most of us are “What’s next?” She’s “What’s next!”
She also has a penchant for pithy one-liners like I want to grow wide.
“You mean up, right?” I asked her. “You want to grow up.”
I lifted the baseball cap off my head, readjusted it, and put it back on. The universal male sign for I Don’t Understand What You’re Saying, So Give Me A Minute.
“You want to get…fat?”
She snorted into her hand. “No,” she said. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
She took a seat beside me at the table and then lean forward, thinking.
“Everyone is telling me that it’s time to grow up,” she said. “And they’re right, it is. I mean let’s face it, I studied hard through college and all, but I also had my fun. I was a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore. Follow me?”
“And I’ll accept the fact that I’m not a kid anymore. I’m good with that. I think it’s time I had some responsibility. I’m looking forward to it. I think a lot of people shun that nowadays. It’s like everything is anyone’s fault but your own.”
“But that’s growing up,” I said again.
She waved me off. “I guess. But that’s not such a big deal, really. Everyone knows you have to grow up sooner or later. I just want…more.”
She looked at me and saw the confusion on my face. Or the smudge of grease on my cheek. It had been a long day.
“What do you want out of life?” she asked me.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “What most people want, I suppose—some quiet, some success, and some happiness.”
“Me, too. But you know what? I think the noise and the failure and the sadness has to come before the quiet and the success and the happiness. You can’t have one without the other. I might not know everything, but I know that. And I know that sometimes all the bad stuff mixes in with the good stuff, too. It’s not like you have all of one and none of the other. You can be happy, but you can have a little sadness in you at the same time. Get me?”
“I think so.”
“Most people, they stay as far away from the bad stuff as they can get. I guess you can’t blame them. My father? He was sad too much and didn’t have a lot of happy. Unless he was drinking, anyway. Which is why he kept drinking more and more, thinking it would make him happier and happier. Know what it got him?”
I did. I remembered the semester she had to take off during her junior year when he drank himself to death.
“You could say he grew up, you know,” she told me. “He had a good job, paid the bills, never got into trouble, all that. Aside from the drinking, he was responsible. Maybe even in spite of the drinking. Just because you grow up doesn’t mean you become a better person.”
“So you don’t want to grow up after all?”
“No,” she said, “I do. And I will. But I want to grow wide, too. I want to know that I won’t run from the bad things in life. That there’s just as much beauty in sadness and noise as there is in happiness and peace. There is, right?”
“From my experience?” I asked. “Yes. Absolutely.”
“So I’m gonna grow wide. I’m not going to diet on just the good stuff. I think life should be a feast, so you might as well not be afraid to taste it all.”
She left soon after that with a promise to keep in touch. I think she will. To be honest, I worry about a lot of these students when they leave. Most of them have no idea what’s waiting for them out there in that big world.
But not her. I think she’ll be just fine. And wide, too.